Going Guerrilla: How to Successfully Shoot Documentary Abroad [PODCAST]

Three filmmakers with international chops give insights on common challenges, ideal gear, and lessons learned from their time in the field.

What makes a guerrilla film shoot guerrilla? Sure, there are the circumstances that surround the act itself; limited resources, communication breakdowns, language barriers, nowhere to get a sandwich, not to mention the personal, emotional and creative risks attached. The most important ingredient, however, is one that is almost entirely paradoxical to the word guerrilla itself: sensitivity. It's the delicacy with which you navigate these obstacles—to fulfill the responsibility you owe to your film's subjects—that makes a successful venture. 

Everyone wants to travel for work, but this week's guests tell us that documentary filmmaking is no vacation. From carrying your own food into terrorist compounds to dealing with drunken, racist Serbs, I sat down with filmmakers Arianna LaPenne, Alex Mallis, and Bryan Chang to get a complete rundown of the prospective challenges a filmmaker could face filming abroad.

If you're looking for a catch-all solution to those challenges, then you're out of luck, because this is one profession where it's impossible to tell from where they'll come. You can really only learn from experience. Luckily for us, our three guests have quite a bit of experience behind them, and offer some excellent tips from a multitude of international gigs to get you prepared for the unexpected as best you can.

Arianna LaPenne behind the camera in West Bank.

Arianna LaPenne is an accomplished documentary director and cinematographer who has recently shot in Nepal, India and Columbia for outlets such as Viceland and The New York Times. Her most recent work can be seen as cinematographer on the Gloria Steinem produced Viceland show, Woman. With so much experience filming internationally for clients, she has managed to find overlap between hired work and her own passion projects. When working for a client versus on your own projects, it may be harder to take away a story that truly ends up benefitting your subjects.  However, from Arianna we learn that keeping your ethics and sense of responsibility no matter what the project is crucial to success. 

Alex Mallis and Bryan Chang on set during the filming of 'The Che of Havana'

Alex Mallis and Bryan Chang are fresh off a return from Cuba where they shot the Vimeo Staff Pick awarded short The New Che of HavanaIn addition to this latest project, Bryan is currently in post-production for the documentary feature Island Soldier about soldiers from Micronesia who serve for the American army. Alex has shot in DR Congo and wrote, directed, and acted in the short narrative, La Noche Buena, which was shot in Havana, Cuba. 

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Alex and Bryan, very nice piece. Would love to see a longer piece on Ché and his fellow Cubans in these changing times.

May 16, 2016 at 9:43PM

Kevin Jones